By: Ian Watson
The 2015 New Jersey Complete Streets Summit was held on Monday October 26th at Rutgers University. It brought together over 250 planners, engineers, advocates, and policy-makers from throughout the state to celebrate the success of Complete Streets in New Jersey, and to provide information about benefits, implementation strategies, and goals of Complete Streets. The event is held biennially to advance strategies for providing a safe, multi-modal transportation system that is accessible for all users. The number of Complete Streets Policies in New Jersey has surged to 122 municipal and seven county policy adoptions, demonstrating an interest and need to not only develop Complete Streets policies but to implement them as well. Sessions focused on providing information about practical skills such design principles and financing mechanisms to help communities transition from adopting Complete Street policies to implementing projects.
Debbie Kingsland, Acting Manager of NJDOT’s Bureau of Commuter and Mobility Strategies, introduced the Summit’s keynote speaker, Dawn Zimmer, the Mayor of Hoboken, who has been a state leader in progressive transportation initiatives. Since becoming mayor in 2009, she has worked toward making Hoboken home to Corner Cars, the first on-street car sharing program in the country, and Hudson Bike Share. During her address, she stressed the necessity of Complete Streets to promote economic growth.
“If you want to attract companies, a Complete Streets policy is vital,” she said. “It has a direct effect on public safety and quality of life.”
The city frequently conducts surveys to get a better idea of what residents want. According to Mayor Zimmer, it has been a huge success and has guided the city’s decision-making process. Thousands of people walk to the PATH Station in Hoboken every day; responding to the public input the city installed bicycle racks near the station and “bicyclists now have easy accessibility to these features,” Mayor Zimmer said.
Mayor Zimmer went on to describe some of Hoboken’s past, present, and future efforts to implement Complete Streets concepts in the city. One such project is the Hudson Place development. The completed project implemented a road diet that widened sidewalks to improve pedestrian use and retail activity. The Washington Street Redesign, a future project, aims to enhance bicycle lanes and loading zones for businesses.
“Bike lanes are great for supporting community safety,” Mayor Zimmer said. “They have a calming effect on traffic.”
A final project Mayor Zimmer mentioned was the Willow Avenue Redesign. The plan adds more bicycle parking racks on sidewalks and will include a Class One bike lane (bike paths that are physically separated by a vertical barrier from motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic). In addition to parking, a bike share station will also be incorporated, allowing greater access to the PATH Station.
“If you want to attract companies, a Complete Streets policy is vital. It has a direct effect on public safety and quality of life. – Mayor Dawn Zimmer
After the keynote address and first panelist session, an awards ceremony was held to recognize New Jersey municipalities for their roles in advancing Complete Streets policies. Plaques were presented by both Debbie Kingsland and Charles Brown, Senior Research Specialist at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center. A total of 51 municipalities and two counties were given Complete Streets Policy Adoption Recognition awards. The second part of the ceremony featured the Complete Streets Champion Awards, which recognized two individuals for their commitment to advocating for Complete Streets in their communities: Jack Nata, Newark’s Manager of Traffic and Signals, and Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli of Fair Haven. Finally, Complete Streets Excellence Awards were given to the cities of Camden, Highland Park, Hoboken, New Brunswick, and Ocean City, as well as to Passaic County, for their outstanding efforts in implementing Complete Streets projects.
The closing keynote address was given by Emiko Atherton, the Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. Ms. Atherton talked about a change in the model surrounding the conversation about active transportation: improving communication, changing the debate on the active transportation movement, and clearing a path for change.
“We need to figure out the tools and take it to the next level,” she said. “We have to understand the needs of Complete Streets and celebrate its success.”
Before closing, Ms. Atherton discussed several top priorities for the Complete Streets movement. First, she insisted, we need to reach out to low-income and under served communities that are not directly impacted by initiatives. “We have to be mindful of where this work needs to occur and how effective policy will be.”
Second, there need to be more efforts in identifying and quantifying the benefits of Complete Streets, as well as advertising these benefits to the general public, public officials and transportation professionals.
Third, and finally, we need to encourage policy conversations across the country and build accolades. Ms. Atherton said, “Complete Streets projects are cheaper to finish and end up creating more jobs. Overall, we have been able to prove that these programs are beneficial.”
Ms. Atherton, reflecting the positive tone of the Summit, was full of praise for New Jersey’s Complete Streets movement. NJDOT, she said, has the best state Complete Streets policy in the country. And, as of 2014, 714 Complete Streets policies have been adopted nation-wide, with 17% of them having been adopted in New Jersey. Now that’s something for New Jersey to celebrate.